Researchers from UC Berkeley and the Technical University of Munich are working on a sort of “incognito mode” for the metaverse.
The new metaverse feature, “incognito mode”
The idea of ”incognito mode” to be added to immersive digital worlds is similar to what we can currently use on web browsers to hide his movements online.
The tool, called MetaGuard, would prevent companies from tracking users’ digital footprints, including identity, geolocation and travel data.
The objective is to allow the user to navigate incognito in the metaverse, without all their actions and information being tracked, above all, where and how the person interacts with virtual reality.
A little later we will go into more technical details and what has just been described will become clearer.
Contrary to popular belief, the incognito mode of browsers hides browsing data only locally. Therefore, it does not prevent the collection of information by the web servers you visit and should not be confused with a tool that provides anonymity, such as Tor.
The MetaGuard tool in detail, features and properties of the new metaverse incognito mode
MetaGuard is usually defined as a incognito mode for virtual reality (VR) and attempts to fill the gaps presented by Web 2.0. Arguably, the work is necessary to say the least, as the sensitive data that can be collected through a VR experience could be more invasive than that generated by “just browsing Google”.
The newly created tool is based on a technique called Differential Privacy. Basically, this involves adding enough “noise” – the jargon used to define data distortion – into the metrics collected so that the information cannot be traced back to the person who generated it.
This type of model allows user telemetry data should be hidden from the server by adding “intermediate offset objects” in number proportional to the level of confidentiality chosen by the user.
The latter depends in particular on the layers of defenses added via the dedicated interface of the MetaGuard tool within virtual reality.
The user, according to his preferences, will have to choose the optimal level of trade-off between confidentiality and accuracy.
Also, for those who wish to go into even more technical details, the three authors, Vivek Nair (UC Berkeley), Gonzalo Munilla Garrido (Technical University of Munich), and dawn song (UC Berkeley), have published an article through ArXiv.
About the new project, Nair explains that:
“It has the potential to dramatically improve privacy for VR users, with our experiments showing a greater than 90% reduction in attack accuracy for multiple private data attributes and a 95% reduction in user de-anonymization. “
Companies unwilling to support incognito tool in their metaverse
Unfortunately, as you can well understand, some virtual reality platforms, such as VRChat, have decided to block tools such as MetaGuard for the protection of user privacy.
In this regard, Vivek Nair, with some discouragement, states that:
“Unfortunately, some companies have already begun to act to prevent this from being a possibility. In mid-July, researchers unveiled their findings on virtual reality privacy and their work on MetaGuard to the VRChat community.”
He then goes on to reveal that:
“VRChat is one of the largest metaverse applications and we wanted to give them time to address our privacy concerns before making them public. We have shared our source code for our prototype MetaGuard plugin for VRChat with them at that time.
A few days later, VRChat announced its decision to ban all client mods from the platform and use DRM tools to make modding impossible. Therefore, VRChat is now one of the few major applications where MetaGuard cannot be used.
Obviously, if this trend continues, the privacy of every user could be seriously threatened. Not only could information about a person’s daily habits continue to be collected, as is already the case with big tech, but it will usher in a new era where big business could get our telemetry data.
The future of the metaverse, between initial hype and current flop
Right now, the future of the Metaverse looks very uncertain. There is not yet an idea that can be common to all and that can function as a standard that draws guidelines for the whole field.
Many try to provide a clear definition regarding the concept of these new virtual worlds.
First of all Eric Schmidtthe former CEO of Google, revealed that he is against the current development of the metaverse, mainly because:
“There is still no clear definition of the concept and how it will affect people’s lives.”
If you really want to be picky, the definition that best fits current developments is that the metaverse can be seen as a set of immersive, personalized and interconnected virtual reality worlds where people can shop, work and play.
Also expressing his thoughts on the future of the Metaverse is Vitalik Buterinwhose idea, shared in a tweet, is that none of the existing attempts will go anywhere:
The “metaverse” is going to happen, but I don’t think any of the existing attempts by companies to intentionally create the metaverse are going anywhere. https://t.co/tVUfq4CWmP
— vitalik.eth (@VitalikButerin) July 30, 2022
Then some teasing Mark Zuckerbergoverinvestment, calling the technology of the virtual world he is developing, Horizon Worlds, on par with that of a 1997 video game:
Facebook spent $10 billion on metaverse projects in 2021.
The graphics seem to come out of a video game developed in 1997. pic.twitter.com/KuGMBMF3O1
— Chris Bakke (@ChrisJBakke) August 17, 2022
But he is not alone. Regarding the last of Horizon expansion in Spain and France, a user calls Zuckerberg’s virtual selfie ‘ugly as hell’, then rages again claiming that Meta’s Metaverse Strategy Will Eventually Die Into Darkness:
Mark Zuckerberg launches Horizon Worlds in France and Spain with a horribly ugly VR selfie. Meta’s metaverse scheme is surely dying in the dark. pic.twitter.com/j0l6yTYye4
— Ordinary Things (@ordinarytings) August 16, 2022
Meta, the sandbox and decentralized performance
Indeed, the current figures speak for themselves. According to the financial results of the second quarter 2022the division dedicated to the development of the new virtual reality project, Reality Labs, has published a loss of up to $2.8 billion.
This, however, is not the only reality to suffer. Virtual land prices from major metaverses, such as The Sandbox and Decentraland, have dropped 90%also an accomplice of the current bear market which has affected the entire cryptocurrency industry.
The same fate is reserved for the users of the two virtual worlds that we have just mentioned, which, due to the enormous disinterest, have experienced a sharp drop in activity. In June 2022, The Sandbox had less than 1,000 active userswhile Decentraland didn’t even reach 100.
Will it just be a bad time before recovery, or has this technology been overhyped due to the initial hype?
It will certainly have advantages with its innovative applications in different fields, but many realities will not survive in the future.